Of lives made invisible

Sonia K Kurup
Sunday, 11 February 2018

Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Authored by: Ashwin Parulkar, Saba
Sharma, Amod Shah, Shikha Sethia, Rhea John, Anhad Imaan and Annie Baxi
Pages: 242
Price: Rs 350

There is an enormous struggle in the Dispossessed... to make sense of and, more importantly, depict the lived realities of the people at the margins. The struggle is that of the researcher: their location — privileged in many respects — and the personal distress they experience and retain from their encounter with the extremities of suffering of the country’s poorest.

Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Authored by: Ashwin Parulkar, Saba
Sharma, Amod Shah, Shikha Sethia, Rhea John, Anhad Imaan and Annie Baxi
Pages: 242
Price: Rs 350

There is an enormous struggle in the Dispossessed... to make sense of and, more importantly, depict the lived realities of the people at the margins. The struggle is that of the researcher: their location — privileged in many respects — and the personal distress they experience and retain from their encounter with the extremities of suffering of the country’s poorest.

Therefore, the 16 articles are as much about the researcher as they are about the researched — the people being ‘studied’ to understand extreme poverty and destitution in contemporary India. The authors have combined their self reflections from field experiences with the stories of the poor collected as field notes from across the country. All the researchers are associated with the Centre for Equity Studies (CES), New Delhi.

Dispossessed... is about the destitute, homeless and starving living in India’s impoverished villages, and as stateless communities, stigmatised landless tribes, and the mentally and physically disabled in rural areas. However, the authors establish the limitations of their narratives, the gap between ‘the realities told’ and ‘the realities lived’, by revealing their voices and hence their subjective locations.

Ashwin Parulkar, a senior researcher at CES, for example, writes at times with resignation — “Their silence is exploited”, and also with frustration, “… if she could at least get her damn ration card, that could count for a bit of justice in this God-forsaken world”. The authors express their frustrations with the state and society for the violence on, and neglect of, those who are undergoing incredible suffering. In this sense, the researchers use empathy and respect to evolve a methodology of study that is ‘egalitarian and democratic’. In addition, they have attempted to link their lives with those they have studied, as in Shared Spaces by Annie Baxi. Baxi uses her research to reflect on her own status as an unmarried researcher in her late 20s.

Some of these articles are also located within a critical framework that evaluates existing government policies and programmes meant to safeguard the rights of the marginalised. For instance, Parulkar’s articles draw attention to the lack of accountability among officials in ensuring the implementation of important social protection programmes, such as National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) and the Midday Meal Scheme. In his observations, their negligence and apathy are some of the main reasons for the daily hardships of poverty experienced by many and the cause for starvation deaths. Had work and pay under NREGS been provided as per law, those living with chronic hunger and malnutrition would have had the safety net for survival.

Due to its particular approach, the book offers a dialogue with ‘those like us’ — privileged in multiple ways. Their accounts are useful in comprehending the worlds of deprivation and suffering that exist as isolated realities in the spaces and lives we share.

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